Community group plans recall of Las Cruces school board members
School board backs superintendent in face of complaints about hiring and firing at central office
LAS CRUCES - A community group including former educators and administrators in the Las Cruces Public Schools says it will draft petitions recalling Board of Education members.
During the public comment period at the April 16 school board meeting, Las Cruces attorney CaraLyn Banks addressed board members and superintendent Greg Ewing, accusing his administration of numerous violations of state statute and board policies. Banks said her group is called, "Enough."
She was joined at the podium by retired LCPS educator Kathy Norris, who did not speak.
Banks criticized the board for its decision in February to demolish and rebuild Columbia Elementary School, alleging it was made without public discussion, despite it being an agenda item at several public meetings and a special town hall meeting where public input was permitted.
She also complained the board had failed to supervise Ewing, and presented a list of complaints about the superintendent.
Superintendent Ewing accused
Banks said public records the group requested showed the district added 14 central office administrator positions since Ewing arrived on the job in December 2016.
"The extra cost that was spent on administrators could have hired 30 more teachers," she said.
Banks accused Ewing of nepotism, retaliatory conduct and hiring employees without listing their positions. She also claimed that Ewing has hired an unspecified number of former colleagues from Georgia.
The instance she cited was the recent hire of Judith McNeil, a retired school principal and colleague of Ewing from Georgia, which Ewing announced at a Zia Middle School PTO meeting last week.
"The job wasn't posted," Banks said. "Does she hold the proper license? Is this another new position? What are her responsibilities, her job title, and what is the cost to the district?"
Complaints of employees being placed on leave until their contracts expire and retaliation for questioning the administration have been aired by community members at previous public meetings, and are echoed in a lawsuit by former administrator Elizabeth Marrufo.
Jo Galván, former chief of communications for the district, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau last year after she was put on leave until her contract expired. In response to a public records request, the bureau told the Sun-News her complaint is still under investigation.
"We know there has been a purging of experienced personnel from the district," Banks said. "Is that efficient? Anybody that asks questions is gone."
Public comments are typically limited to three minutes, and the board has a policy of not responding to comments about items not on the agenda. At the meeting's end, however, board member Maria Flores made a closing comment affirming her confidence in the administration.
"I remain a champion of transparency and accountability," Flores said. "I have never had more confidence in our administration as I do right now, and I don't worry about the superintendent making funny deals that somehow don't work out in the favor of the district."
In February of 2018, the school board issued Ewing a two-year contract running through June 30, 2021, with a $15,000 salary increase. Last August, the board amended Ewing's contract to provide 28 days of annual leave and 14 sick days of sick leave in addition to his $180,000 annual salary.
Ewing has received support from some school personnel. But he's also garnered heavy criticism this year from some parents and staff over personnel changes.
Recall petitions being drafted
On Wednesday morning, Norris told the Sun-News the group will proceed to draft petitions recalling all five board members.
New Mexico statute provides for recall of local school board members. First, a district judge must determine whether the facts justify proceeding with the petition process. If the petitions proceed, and 33 1/3 percent of the number of registered voters who voted for a school board position at the last election sign, a special recall election for the position is triggered.
On Wednesday morning, LCPS spokesman Damien Willis said a packet distributed to media by the group contained "too many inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the facts to enumerate."
In a written statement, Ewing noted the presence of "a few disgruntled former employees" at Tuesday's meeting and said, "The information they presented was not accurate, and — as the board president previously stated — the fact that they are former employees might help to explain why they are disgruntled.”
Ewing also described the situation with Columbia Elementary School as an "inherited problem" and said, "The entire decision-making process was properly noticed, and discussed in open session. The board has been fully transparent throughout the decision-making process. Experts were consulted, presented their findings in open meetings, and the board publicly agonized over this decision; it was not an easy one to make.”
Willis picked up on claims about Columbia in defense of Ewing:
“The Superintendent deserves credit for identifying the root of the problem with Columbia Elementary, and addressing it boldly and transparently," Willis stated in an email. "He was the one who directed staff to cut into the exterior wall for the very first time. It was that action which revealed the source and scope of the problem."
The board seats currently held by Ed Frank and Maury Castro are up for election in 2019, per the board's website. Columbia Elementary School is located within Castro's district. Terms for Terrie Dallman, Maria Flores and Ray Jaramillo expire in 2021.